Burger Joint's 'Normal' Burger
The abrupt opening yesterday of the first branch location of Burger Joint occasioned a flood of notoriety, suggesting you get more publicity by behaving impulsively than by following the typical slow-moving campaign that usually attends a restaurant opening. After I'd read about it in Eater, The New York Times, and Fork in the Road, I had to run over there and check out the menu.
The appeal of the original, located behind a curtain just off the lobby of a fancy French hotel, astonished everyone when it opened 10 years ago. It felt like a blow against elitism. The fact that there was nothing special about the burger except freshness and plainness seemed wonderful at the time, and seems even more wonderful now.
The menu of the original--just burger, fries, milkshake, soft drink, and occasional desssert--has been scrupulously preserved, so that all you have to select are the burger toppings, which run to lettuce, tomato, raw onions, pickle chips, and a choice of mayo, mustard, and ketchup. The burger is good enough that you could go with nothing and it would still be tasty.
Which is not necessarily to say great. The Burger Joint burger is like a college student content with a B. Yes, the beef is minerally and moist, the bun appropriately soft, the cheese sliced thin and of indeterminate origin, the vegetables clean and ungritty.
On this first full day, the staff impressed this observer by carefully nipping an edge of each patty open to see how well done the patty was inside. This may make some suspicious, as if they don't know the craft of the burger cook, but it also indicates they were willing to go to extra trouble to make sure you got your burger cooked exactly the way you wanted it.
I loved it. Less gussied up than the Shake Shack burger, but at a similar price, this is the kind of thing you'd carefully make for yourself at home -- if you had ground beef this fresh. The french fries are exactly the heft and length of MacDonald's, only about 20 percent better.
The staff was fumbling in an endearing way, and there were no restaurant consultants to be seen, or efficiency experts, either. As a result of the perfect publicity program, the place was over half-filled, despite the size of the new premises, and the fact that there hadn't yet been time for word of mouth. Expect the place to be mobbed at lunch henceforth.
Still, the original hotel lobby location made you feel like a spy when you entered, and a member of an exclusive country club thereafter, virtues that the new branch could not hope to duplicate. But a branch restaurant is never as good as the original place, anyway. And that's just as true of Shake Shack.
33 West 8th Street
See the 2012 edition of FiTR's 10 Best Burgers
See other Meaty Delights of NYC
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